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D.C. Appeals Court Rules For Teen Seeking Abortion While In U.S. Illegally

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., has ruled in favor of a teenager who is in the country illegally and seeking an abortion. The 17-year-old is from Central America and has been blocked by the Trump administration from leaving the facility where she is being held so she can obtain the procedure.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Patricia Millett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit writes that the teenager has satisfied all the requirements under Texas law to obtain an abortion. She also says, "The government has bulldozed over constitutional lines" in its argument that the girl should leave the country voluntarily if she wants an abortion.

Because she is an unaccompanied minor, the girl is under the control of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement. In late September, the girl obtained permission from a judge to bypass the Texas parental consent law. But administration officials have not allowed her to leave the privately run facility in Brownsville, Texas.

The latest ruling, from the full appeals court, reverses a previous decision by a three-judge panel giving the government until the end of October to find a sponsor who could take over custody of the girl. That would allow administration officials to avoid doing what they describe as "facilitating" an abortion by permitting the girl to get one. Federal attorneys have argued that they're looking out for the young woman's "best interest" and that the administration wants to "promote childbirth and fetal life."

Responding to the latest ruling, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said the case illustrates "the danger of having ideologues running the federal government." She said she is concerned about efforts by Trump administration officials to reduce access to birth control and abortion.

"This is crazy. This is what happens when people who are politically ... motivated are using their own politics to get in between women and the health care that they deserve," Richards said. "That's what's really worrisome about not only this case, but the other moves that we've seen by the administration."

Anti-abortion rights groups have also weighed in, accusing abortion-rights groups of using the case to advance their agenda.

Concerned Women for America CEO and President Penny Nance said in a statement: "Let's remember that abortion is not health care. If we want to talk about providing care for undocumented minors who cross our border, then let's be honest about the fact that there were two lives that crossed our border."

In a statement, Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America called the latest ruling a "tragedy," adding, "The United States should not become an abortion destination spot for the world."

Attorneys for the girl note that she is not asking the federal government to pay for the abortion, only to allow her to leave the facility to obtain it.

The case has been at the center of an ongoing legal battle between the Trump administration and the American Civil Liberties Union. The young woman was said to be about 15 weeks pregnant as of Oct. 20, the day a three-judge panel in Washington considered an earlier appeal in the case. Abortion is illegal in Texas after 20 weeks.

Attorneys with the ACLU, which is representing the girl, have said that her movements are being closely monitored, that federal officials have tried to persuade her not to have the abortion and that they have required her to go to counseling at an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center.

In response to the ruling, a lower court judge issued an order requiring the Trump administration to transport the girl, or allow her to be transported, to receive the abortion.

Under Texas law, the young woman must also undergo another round of counseling 24 hours before the procedure.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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